On Friday night, Stanford (8-4, 5-4 MPSF) met the top team in the nation, defending national champion UCI (10-3, 7-3) in the smaller Burnham Pavilion. Irvine was riding a four-game win streak, but Stanford was determined to not let its 12-game home win streak come to an end.
The first two sets, however, were all Irvine, as the Anteaters took both handily, winning both 25-18. The match seemed to be sewn up, but the Cardinal refused to give in.
Stanford started the third set with six straight points, shifting the momentum of the match back into its favor. Led by junior outside hitter Brian Cook, who recorded seven kills in the set, Stanford never trailed and captured the third 25-20.
The fourth set again seemed to be all Irvine, but Stanford again refused to quit. The Anteaters cruised to a quick 11-4 lead to start the set, putting the Cardinal into a deep hole.
Cook and fellow junior Steven Irvin, however, put it on themselves to pull Stanford back into the game. The pair combined for two aces and 14 kills in the set, and Stanford began to crawl back into the game.
The Cardinal was able to tie the match at 17 after an Irvine error, shifting the momentum of the match and leading all in attendance to believe a fifth set was destined to occur.
The Anteaters, however, were determined not to go to five and were able to compose themselves impressively. Irvine didn’t allow Stanford to take a lead in the set, holding off each attack and squeaking out a 25-23 victory.
Irvin led all players with 21 kills on .375 hitting, giving him his third straight 20-kill game. Before the streak, his previous game-high had been 18. Cook added 18 of his own on .421 hitting, as well as eight digs. The Cardinal was hurt by a lack of offensive contribution from the rest of the team, as all other Stanford players combined for just seven kills.
After the loss, Stanford went into its match with UCSD (4-10, 2-8) knowing that it had to reverse the losing tide with a victory over one of the bottom teams in the MPSF. Coach John Kosty, in an effort to find a winning combination, tried a new starting lineup with junior Denny Falls at middle blocker and freshman setter Joe Ctvrtlik receiving his first start.
Ctvrtlik certainly capitalized on his opportunity, with 33 assists, eight digs and three blocks, despite being the one of the shortest men on the court for much of the match. Junior setter Grant Delgado, who tallied seven digs on the match, was impressed with the freshman’s performance, stating that “he is a fast, agile setter who gets his hands on everything, has great court presence and brings positive energy out on the court.”
The first set was a back-and-forth affair, with UCSD leading for much of it. The Cardinal battled back, however, pulling the score square at 20 before a surge of Triton errors brought Stanford to the verge of victory. After a Cook kill, Stanford was able to pull out the first, 25-22.
Stanford was again stuck playing catch-up for much of the second set, as UCSD started on a 4-0 run that put them firmly in control. The Cardinal slowly chipped away, with a powerful kill from Cook giving Stanford its first lead of the set at 20-19. Cook finished with a match-high 12, and Stanford was again able to pull out a close victory, 25-22.
Stanford held a close lead for much of the third set, but UCSD refused to give in. The Cardinal held an opportunity to close the Tritons out with a 24-21 match-point, but UCSD converted twice, hoping to complete an incredible comeback. Senior outside hitter Jake Kneller wouldn’t let that happen, however, with an emphatic kill to close out the Tritons, 25-23.
Kneller had one of his best matches of the season, with nine kills on .538 hitting. Irvin chipped in 10 kills, while sophomore middle blocker Spencer Haly had five kills and four blocks.
Junior opposite Daniel Tublin, who had to sit out the matches with injury, echoed the importance of strong middle play, stating that “it was great to see our connection with the middles develop,” as “it will help open up [their] offense against teams looking to slow down [their] outside hitters.”
Stanford is back on the road next weekend, taking on Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State. Both should be solid tests for the young Cardinal team.
Contact Anders Mikkelsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.